Before I moved to Roanoke, I lived in a small town for 20 years. I’m talking small town by any standard. Potter, smack dab in the middle of the New York Finger Lakes area, had a population of 1830. That’s people. Livestock numbers were exponentially higher. There, your word meant something. Everyone knew your business, particularly if you didn’t do what you said you would. Of course, time ran differently – yep, sometime . . . – but promises were king. Word-of-mouth drove small business prosperity.
The town is still a client of mine as I continue to edit and design the Potter Newsletter. That’s been the case for more than 15 years. It arrives in snail mail boxes.
I’m no longer just up the hill around the bend from the Town Hall and Town Clerk offices. It’s now more than a 500-mile drive to that bucolic spot. The relationships you build in a community like that don’t go away when you do.
People care about each other and take care of one another without being asked. Work ethics are strong. Giving is a given. Those who run to the rescue for others don’t expect reciprocity. All are there for each, always.
I lived there when this country was faced with the horror of 9/11. My mind raced as I considered what might come next in the way of dirty bombs or other catastrophic attacks on this nation. Then, I realized, we’d be fine. With hunters and farmers and tradesmen and fix-anything-masters and Mennonite craftsmen, people in town could easily band together to meet each resident’s needs. We had spring-fed wells, natural heat sources, horse transportation, and year-round food supplies we could harvest ourselves. Cable and cell services weren’t available anyway, so we wouldn’t miss that.
There are some great lessons to learn about fostering small business prosperity from Podunk towns.
5 country lessons for small business owners
Honor your word. In rural towns, delivering on promises is more valuable than anything. When you don’t, you’ll be the talk of the town at the central gathering place for gossip. In Potter, this was a grocery store/farm shop/hardware store/eatery/old men card playing destination, all in about 600 square feet of space. News of charlatans may not spread as fast in bigger communities, but word gets around. Trust, respect and dependability prompt word-of-mouth referrals that are more valuable than any influencer you might hire.
Be proud of your work ethic. There’s nothing like going to bed tired after a hard day’s work. Farming’s physically demanding in a way that has you asleep almost the moment you hit the pillow. Logging a productive day that includes some good deeds in the white-collar world has the same effect. Feeling good about the work you do leads to more restful nights.
Lean on a trusted team for self-sufficiency. Small towns care about and support each other without thought. With the right group of caring associates, though, you can solve any client’s challenge. It takes a little more effort, but you can source people who can provide help to ensure you, your employees, your vendors and your clients reach their goals. Turnkey solutions are more valuable than piecemeal offerings. Reflect on all the components needed for your people and clients to thrive. Be the one who finds the team they need to succeed.
Give without reward in mind. There is no charity in small, rural towns. Knowing your neighbors and genuinely caring about them enough to jump in when they’re challenged is reflex, not some lofty, benevolent act. It’s not about what you’ll get in return. It’s about community. Small business owners’ tribes include vendors, employees, prospects, customers, businesses associates, and colleagues. Be the one who sees their challenge then helps resolve it without being asked.
Be the solution. Anyone can offer commentary from a distance. It’s those who leap in to help resolve a problem without being asked who make a difference. People remember that. When you care enough about others to see a need in what they’re not stating, you’ll find people are there for you. It’s a circular world.
When I moved to Potter, I was “city folk” and married. By the time I left I had served four years on the Town Council, developed friendships that will last a lifetime and experienced the kindness of those in the community as I struggled with handling a 117-acre farm alone after a divorce.
During my time in this wonderful little town, one of the most important lessons I learned being able to accept the kindness of others who jumped in to help without being asked. It didn’t feel right at first. I couldn’t figure out a way to reciprocate. Finally, I understood. Country living helped me develop better perspectives on what community really means. This applies to small business prosperity in more ways than I could have imagined.